Recent allegations that personnel at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) falsified and tampered with records at various medical centers to make appointment waiting times appear shorter illustrate the need for new programs, policies, and procedures to modernize the records management practices of federal agencies, according to ARMA International.
“Transparency and integrity are the foundation of good information governance,” said Liz Icenogle, ARMA’s Associate Director on Government Affairs. “The fact that staff at some VA facilities were able to take advantage of a complicated and confusing computerized scheduling system to falsify agency records shows the need for better oversight and the implementation of best practices in the area of records and information management.”
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned May 30 after the department’s acting inspector general released a report that found repeated instances of phony waiting lists kept by some VA hospitals to hide health-care delays. The report showed evidence of double bookkeeping, in which there exists two sets of lists showing how long veterans had to wait to see a doctor.
The inspector general’s findings were not the first revelations of widespread failings in the health-care system for military veterans. In 2011, the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO), a congressional watch dog group, issued a report that found that the VA’s scheduling system had long-standing limitations that impeded its effectiveness. In 2009, the department canceled its patient scheduling system – named the Replacement Scheduling Application Development Program – after spending $167 million over eight years and failing to deliver a usable product.
According to GAO, the VA’s efforts to successfully complete the Scheduling Replacement Project were hindered by weaknesses in several key project management disciplines and a lack of effective oversight. “The application software project was hindered by weaknesses in several key management disciplines, including acquisition planning, requirements analysis, testing, progress reporting, risk management, and oversight,” the report stated.
To address information management weaknesses such as those at the VA, ARMA recommends the establishment of a chief records officer (CRO) in each federal agency that would have the full background, authority, and staff that go with the responsibility for implementing and executing records management programs and policies throughout their organizations.
“The CRO should be established as a role that is isolated from information technology functions, but should also be responsible for assisting the chief information officers in understanding their responsibilities for the records of the department or agency,” ARMA wrote in a letter providing input on the development of the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA’s) Third Open Government Plan. Creating a CRO in each federal agency will empower leaders at the highest levels to “facilitate the competencies of records and information managers, and enable the federal government to become a model for information governance leadership.”